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Hype over old-man haircuts overshadows business at A-1 Kutz

Snellville barber Russell Frederick, who fixed the child's haircut four days later, says the punishment works now that whoopings are a no-go


?Once a king among syndicated TV sit-com characters, George Jefferson's likeness became a punchline of a different kind this week. And one suburban Atlanta barber's free-as-advertised old-man haircuts, meant to whip misbehaving kids into shape, provoked a national debate over the thin line separating parental discipline from child abuse. But the hype over barber Russell Frederick's creative, if controversial, cuts has hardly been a boon for business.
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?"With all the cameras and lights and reporters here, it's actually slowed down our business," he told me by phone on Thursday afternoon. "Today i've only cut two heads. I usually cut at least 10 heads, and that's on a regular day. On a weekend, we cut all day long, almost 12 hours straight."
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?Despite the national attention the shop received and the cultural debate it sparked over the replacement of old-school whoopings with newfangled punishments that publicly shame children, Frederick says he only issued out three such disciplinary haircuts. His own 12-year-old son served as the guinea pig when he brought home less than desirable grades from school several months ago. "It's not as many customers as people would like to think or may assume," he added. "It's just that one picture caught on and everybody's gone bananas over it."
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?It all started when Frederick, co-owner of A-1 Kutz in Snellville, posted a photo of a young customer whose hair he'd cut, at the behest of the boy's mother, to resemble an old-man with a bald crown and hair on the sides and rear — similar to the iconic style actor Sherman Hemsley sports on the hilarious sit-com "The Jeffersons" from the late-’70s/early-’80s.
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?Frederick's original photo collage, in which the facial expression of the young customer estimated to be 9 or 10 goes from bright-eyed innocence to downright despair in four frames, sparked plenty of LOLs and what-the-hells as it circulated online. The Washington Post followed up with a story earlier this week that parsed out the debate by interviewing a psychotherapist and social worker who stressed the counter-productivity and emotional damage done by corrective action that shames children. 
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?While most of the personal feedback he's received has been positive — minus an anonymous caller on Thursday who told him to "'cut all the hair you can cut today cause we're about to shut you down'" — Frederick suggests critics fail to understand the desperation many parents feel now that society equates corporal punishment with child abuse. "You have to get creative with these kids since you can't give them whoopings like we used to get as children," he said, recalling an era when corporal punishment in African-American families, in particular, was often meant to both prepare and protect children from a world less forgiving. "We have to do something before it's the police that have to discipline them or punish them. That's what's been going on in our society these days." 
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?Frederick, a father of three sons — ages 10, 12, and 13 — initially took matters into his own barber's chair last September when he found out his 12-year-old was failing four classes last September during his first semester of middle school after being a fifth-grade honor-roll student. So dad shaved his head bald and took away his son's tennis shoes.
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?"I told him you're going to have to earn your hair and your shoes back," said Frederick, adding that it's been quite effective. "Now that I shaved my son's head bald, I've had no more problems out of him."
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?When a mother brought her 9-year-old son into the shop last Monday, Jan. 26, requesting a haircut that would teach him a lesson for acting out in school, the barber came up with the idea for the old-man haircut, aka the George Jefferson. "She said, 'Since he wants to act grown, can you help him look the part?'" After giving the child in the picture the haircut, he and the child's mother explained to him why he was being punished. "He finally saw his haircut, and he was sad," Frederick says. Four days later, the mother brought her son back after authorities at her son's school told her the haircut was garnering too much unwanted attention. Last Friday, the barber gave the boy a fresh new haircut and posted the results on Instagram with the child's smile restored. "The little guy said he learned his lesson," said Frederick, adding that the mother praised the effectiveness of the punishment. "He apologized, he thanked me for cutting the first cut and fixing the cut, and he said he doesn't want that cut again and he's going to do what it takes to never have to cut that haircut again."
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?But you don't have to be bad to get a free cut at A-1 Kutz, Frederick says, emphasizing the family-friendly focus of the shop. Kids are encouraged to play free video games onsite and top students who bring their report cards for proof get free haircuts. The shop also celebrated its one-year anniversary last December by giving out freebies. "I know the highlight of the story is a bad cut for discipline, but we do do free cuts for kids on the honor roll and with straight As," he said.
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?As for the potential negative impact such shaming tactics could have on a child's long-term emotional development, Frederick isn't convinced. "We're raising a soft generation," he said. "You can't whoop them, then you wonder why these kids are running out here ... getting shot by the police. Everybody sees that incident and says it starts at home. Well, how can it start at home when you won't even let these parents discipline their kids and raise their kids properly?"
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?You can follow A-1 Kutz on Instagram: @A1Kutz.
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